Freshman Year In Review: Exploring Philly (while on the meal plan)

Lucky for us, Penn is an ideal distance from Philly. Close enough you can walk there, but far enough to be an adventure. And in our first year, we explored quite a few places:

    1. Amada
    2. Artiserrie Bakery
    3. Audabon Bakeshop
    4. Banana Leaf
    5. Beijing
    6. Ben & Jerry’s
    7. Bobby’s Burger Palace
    8. Brick American Eatery
    9. Buttercream Philly
    10. Café Lift
    11. Cake and the Beanstalk
    12. Capogiro
    13. Chipotle
    14. Crumbs Bakeshop
    15. Don Memos
    16. Einstein Brother Bagels
    17. Federal Doughnuts
    18. Franklin Fountain
    19. Giorgio on Pine
    20. Greek Lady
    21. Green Eggs Café
    22. Han Dynasty
    23. Hummus Grill
    24. Insomnia Cookies
    25. Jimmy John’s
    26. Joy Tsin Lau
    27. KC’s Pastries
    28. Kiwi
    29. Koreana’s
    30. La Fontana
    31. Lil’ Pop Shop
    32. Mac Mart
    33. Magic Carpet
    34. Manakeesh Bakery
    35. Max Brener’s
    36. Miel Patisserie
    37. Mizu
    38. Nanzhou Hand-Drawn Noodles
    39. Ocean Harbor
    40. Parc
    41. Pataya
    42. Ray’s Café and Teahouse
    43. Sabrina’s
    44. Saigon Cuisine
    45. Salento Restaurant
    46. Sangkee
    47. Sbraga
    48. Sugar Philly
    49. Sweet Green
    50. Taquiera La Veracruzana
    51. Tartes
    52. Tea Do
    53. Tea Talk
    54. Thai Singha House
    55. The Restaurants School Bakery
    56. Tokyo Hibachi & Sushi
    57. Tria
    58. Twelve Baskets
    59. Tyson Bee’s

However, if you’re a freshman at Penn, it means you’re on a meal plan. And as a result of subpar food, it isn’t uncommon for first years to end up with 50-60 unused meal swipes at the end of a semester. At $15 a swipe, you don’t want to waste them. But despite a lengthy list worth of food exploration, we didn’t fall victim to that fate. In fact, second semester we ran out of meal swipes and dining dollars too soon! So how did we do it? One word: To-go.

Breakfast is actually one of the better meals at dining halls. There’s always a well-rounded selection of fruits, cereals, bagels, breads, and traditional hot breakfast foods, such as scrambled or hardboiled eggs, bacon or sausage, grits or oatmeal, potatoes or pancakes, etc. And time permitting, one can even order a custom omelette or pour herself a waffle. However, this meal frequently gets skipped by college students because of one obvious truth about college life: we students can’t wake up in time to get to our morning classes let alone eat breakfast. Thus, we found ourselves a solution: make a breakfast stockpile in our room with breakfast food from dining halls. Although the hot foods change from meal to meal, the fruits, cereals, bagels, breads, and prepackaged muffins and pound cake slices stick around all day, meaning we could fill up to-go boxes with these portable breakfast options when the time was convenient and voila, we had grab-n-go breakfast for the next few days.

What do oranges, cream cheese, raisins, snap peas, and walnuts have in common? They’re all at Commons (one of the dining halls at Penn). Need cream cheese for that green tea Japanese cheesecake recipe you’ve been anxious to try? Fill up a to-go cup with cream cheese from Commons. Need snap peas for tomorrow’s potluck? Same concept. Need walnuts and raisins so you can make that childhood dessert to relieve your stress during finals week? Commons had our back for that one too. Even when thinking of what would be a thoughtful gift for a friend who gave us her Penn Card so that we could use her bounty of remaining meal swipes (since we’d run out and she wouldn’t be needing them for the next week), we found the answer at a dining hall. Although Commons has oranges too, if one is to do it right one must go to Hill for this one.

The gift of restocking Jackie’s orange grove of a refrigerator

A gift to restock Jackie’s orange grove of a refrigerator

And finally, even though we quickly used up all our guest swipes, we still treated our upperclassman (aka meal plan-less) friends to a “free” meal by simply filling two to-go boxes. The only tricky part is balancing the second set of cups and to-go boxes.

“Crystal is the best and always gets me free meals with her meal swipes” – Christine

“Crystal is the best and always gets me free meals with her meal swipes” – Christine (^_^)

On a different note, being on the meal plan also turned out to be an unexpected, but great way to explore new foods in a way that probably wouldn’t have been explored without compulsory dining dollars waiting to be spent. And by that I mean the exploration of packaged foods. From shopping at Gourmet Grocer (one of the retail dining options at Penn), we discovered Fage and Chobani yogurts, Humbles baked chickpea chips, dried edamame, KIND bars, Cliff bars, and Honest Tea, many of which are now part of our daily diet!

All in all, the dining plan ended up having its perks. For first years, the dining halls were places to build friendships and find common ground and although the tables were not “laid with glittering golden plates and goblets,” and there weren’t thousands of candles “floating in midair,” and there definitely wasn’t a “velvety black ceiling dotted with stars,” there was still something magical about them.

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